Maintaining your inner atmosphere

By James E. Mattson | 01/23/2015

Effective self-care will help you survive and even enjoy the journey.


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It was January in Minnesota, and my wife was driving me to Holman Field, near downtown St. Paul, to board a 3M corporate jet. For the most part, the company’s fleet of Gulfstream aircraft was reserved for top-level executives, but when planes were available, they were used for transporting personnel, up to 14 at a time, to sales meetings, planning retreats, and the like.
 
As a marketing communications supervisor responsible for promoting, among other products, 3M sun control films, I was en route to a sales meeting in San Diego, California. Minnesotans tired of long, cold winters are drawn to such destinations in January. Another year and another January, I would find myself aboard a company plane bound for Boca Raton, Florida.
 
JEM_ID_embed_SFWEntering the hangar, I strode—it’s what executives do—to the assigned plane, where Myles McNiff, a marketing manager, greeted me with his usual “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya!” Upon boarding, I took in the aircraft’s distinctive interior, selected a forward-facing seat—half of the seats faced aft—and noted the spacious legroom. Definitely first class! A few minutes later, we took off over the Mississippi River into a clear Minnesota sky, climbing at a much steeper rate than is common for commercial aircraft.
 
As the plane continued its ascent to cruising altitude and the flight attendant began distributing snacks and beverages, my attention was drawn to the digital display at the front of the cabin that revealed the temperature outside the jet: minus 66 degrees Fahrenheit—actual temp, not wind chill. I was impressed! That was 16 degrees colder than the coldest I had ever experienced growing up in Wisconsin. (The coldest official temperature ever recorded in Wisconsin was minus 55 degrees, “achieved” in 1996.)
 
My friend Rollie, a pilot, informs me that the temperature drops 5.38 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000-foot increase in altitude, known as the dry adiabatic lapse rate. He notes that weather information for aviators is normally stated in degrees Celsius, but when the temperature outside your window is minus 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air is moving at 500 miles per hour—give or take—that, putting it in lay terms, is cold, no matter what scale you’re using!
 
A few hours after departing St. Paul, we landed at San Diego International Airport and, after a brief taxi ride, checked in at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina, the venue for our sales meeting. Although semitropical San Diego is also semiarid, the weather seemed humid compared to the freeze-dried winter air I had left behind. The difference was striking! And between St. Paul and San Diego? Somehow, I had survived passage through “weather” no human can endure. How? The same way any airline passenger flying at high altitude survives. I was protected by the aircraft’s inner atmosphere.
 
To avoid a range of physiological problems for passengers and crews flying 12,500 feet or more above sea level, cabin pressurization is required, unless the plane’s occupants are wearing oxygen masks. Pressurization is achieved by pumping cooled air from the plane’s jet engines into the cabin. An outflow valve regulates cabin pressure to avoid over-pressurization.
 
Just as cabin pressurization protects the occupants of an airplane from extremes associated with high-altitude travel, a nurse’s “inner atmosphere” protects him or her from the stresses associated with a workplace that sometimes seems uninhabitable. It is important, therefore, that this inner atmosphere be well-maintained. We call this maintenance self-care.
 
Over the years, numerous self-care articles have been published in Reflections on Nursing Leadership. Here are just a few:
 
“Personal energy shortage? Tips to refuel your life and leadership,” by Diane Sieg
“Nurses: To care for others, we must first care for ourselves,” by Kim Richards
“Self-reflection: Foundation for meaningful practice,” by Norman Olsen
“This week—and every week—take time for you!” by Santa Crisall
“In pursuit of fitness: Nurses share their stories,” by Jane Palmer
“Nurses need rest, too!” by Barbara Ann D’Anna
“De-stress for success!” by Susan Baxley and Kristina Ibitayo
 
There are more, but you get the idea. And because the self-care message is so important for nurses and bears repeating, you can count on Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL) to provide ongoing encouragement and insights from your nursing colleagues.
 
In coming weeks, we’ll be publishing an article by Diane Sieg, author of the book Stop Living Life Like An Emergency! Sieg has written several self-care articles for the magazine, and her next article is about habits of highly resilient nurses. Watch for it!
 
BBalance_cover_LR_SFWLater this quarter, we’ll be welcoming a new writer to RNL when we publish an article by Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN, on Reiki for self-care. (Karen Pischke, BSN, RN, another writer new to RNL, will be writing about Reiki for patient care.) Watch for those articles, too!
 
Also, check out the recently posted full-chapter excerpt from the STTI-published book, B Is for Balance, Second Edition, by Sharon Weinstein, MS, RN, CRNI, FAAN. It, too, provides information on how to maintain your inner atmosphere.
 
James E. Mattson is editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.
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